29. Steered

Meditations in James: 29 : Steered by the Tongue

Jas 3:3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

We take life for granted. We don’t think about the things we do, because they are so natural. We get up in the morning. We get dressed, eat breakfast, go out for the day, come home, eat, rest and sleep – every day!  We have eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak, and we take them all for granted.  Take the mouth for example.  We may get up in the morning and so we groan about the day negatively.  We turn on breakfast TV, or breakfast radio, or read a morning paper, and grumble about the state of the world.  We complain about a bus or train being late, or about the weather.  We criticise people in the news and at work.  And we wonder why we feel so negative about life.  We speak thoughtlessly to someone and we hurt or upset them and a relationship is broken.  We speak hastily and the die is cast and a decision made that was unwise.  Our mouths play a large part in expressing what we feel, in determining what we feel, and in creating or breaking relationships with other people.  Oh yes, our tongue is a powerful bit of our body, and the wise person thinks about this.

James has been guiding us to think about our lives and has been challenging us about the nature of them as we live them out in the midst of the world that is so often hostile to us and to God. He’s talked about the link between faith and deeds, and he’s gone on to allude to spiritual maturity, something we should be aiming for.  Have you ever used Google Earth or some other satellite system that looks down on the earth? You see the earth from a distance and then you can zoom down and roads become visible and then, as you get nearer, buildings take shape, and then details can be seen and, if it was a real shot, even people seen.  We zoom in and more and more detail is seen.  That’s what James is now doing.  He is zooming in on our lives and focusing specifically on that all-important organ, our tongue!

He doesn’t go into immediate teaching about it; he paints pictures that make us think about it.  He speaks first about the bit in the mouth of a horse.  It’s a very obvious picture.  As the rider pulls on the reins the horse’s head is pulled round and its body follows the direction of the head.  The implication is that we go where our tongue takes us.  There is a sense that the tongue controls the whole body.  Yes, we know that the tongue speaks what is in the heart: out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45).  As we feel on the inside so we speak, but it is as we speak so our direction is set.  We speak and others hear what we say, and we are committed.  If we keep quiet, we are not committed; it is only as we speak is our path set.  What we say, we tend to do.

Then James gives another picture, that of a ship. Oh yes, he says, there may be big waves and strong winds, but it is the rudder of the ship that determines where it goes.  The rudder is so small in comparison to the rest of the ship, but it is still the part that determines the course of the boat.  The same implication is there.  Our course is determined by such a small part of us. Someone offers us as job.  We say, “Yes, I’ll take it.”  Our course is set by our tongue.  Someone chides us for wrong behaviour.  We lash back with our tongue defensively.  Unfortunately they were our manager, and our future hope of promotion has just gone.  Our course is set.  In a marriage, a row ensues and angry words create division.  No healing words are spoken and the rift gets bigger. A course is being set. It is our words that set our course. Think back over the past week or month and see if you can identify times when your words set the course of what was to follow.  Think about things that are yet to happen today or tomorrow and consider how your words will set the course of what is to follow.

James gives a strong warning to finish this verse: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. What is boasting?  It is speaking out and making claims that are untrue, claims that we are bigger and better than is really true. The tiny tongue can say such silly things, but they are things that make other people think less of us; they are things that lead us further into self-deception. Boasting reveals pride and it reveals foolish thinking, but even worse, it leads us along a course that is damaging to us.

Before we go anywhere else with James in this consideration of the use of the tongue, can we realize how significant our words are? Can we realize what our words do? Can we see that they reveal the state of our hearts and the also commit us to the path ahead. We will, in the days ahead, be determining our paths, partly by what we will be saying. That needs thinking about!

Inspection Team

Readings in Luke Continued – No.13

Lk 5:17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.

We are looking, you may remember, at the material that is unique to Luke. When it comes to this particular incident Mark reports: “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum , the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mk 2:1,2). Matthew merely said, “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town,” (Mt 9:1) and then moved into the account, that they all include, of the paralytic being dropped through the roof of the house and being healed by Jesus.

Now in Luke’s unique materials we find two things that Luke heard about and which stayed with him, so he included these matters that no one else thought to include. The first one is what I have called “the inspection team”. We have inspection teams in education who come into schools, sit in on classes and give their verdicts as to the quality of teaching. The people Luke picks up on were a bit like that. We have already seen that the people of the area had appreciated Jesus’ preaching and now we have those described as Pharisees and teachers of the law who come to hear him. Now the word Pharisee means “the separated ones, separatists,” and they were a religious party who first appeared about 135 B.C. They were also known as chasidim, meaning “loved of God” or “loyal to God.” and according to Josephus, their number at the height of their popularity was more than 6,000. They considered they were exponents and guardians of the oral and written law.

The teachers of the law, sometimes just referred to as scribes, were men who studied, taught, interpreted and conveyed the Law of Moses. Both of these groups felt a need to check out Jesus and his teaching to see that it conformed, in their eyes at least, with the Law of Moses.

This is the first time Luke mentions these two groups and they represent the intellectual opposition that Jesus would encounter. He, as they would hear, was just the son of humble carpenter and so they would not expect him to do very well conveying the law. They would expect his teaching to be very rough and ready and expected to be able to pull him apart as far as adhering to the ‘proper’ teaching was concerned.

Many times in the Gospels we therefore find this opposition coming. What is interesting here is that Luke says they had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. They came from the north where he was preaching, but the word had spread much further and so they came from the south, and even from Jerusalem the home of their religion.

What is interesting is that at the end, when Jesus is being accused by the Sanhedrin, many of whom were Pharisees, none of them was able to pick up on and criticise Jesus’ general teaching. When the Son of God teaches, he is accurate! How do we feel about Jesus’ teaching, I wonder? Do we seek to find fault so that we can reject him? Do we seek to find fault because we too are threatened by him? Criticising Jesus’ teaching is a sign of never having properly studied what he taught, but mostly it is a sign of a heart that has never been truly surrendered to God. The person who has surrendered their heart fully to God finds the teaching of Jesus meat and drink.

The second thing that stuck with Luke was the power of God that was clearly with Jesus for he states that the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. He understands that healing only comes when God imparts healing power. For healing to come counter to the normal flow of nature, miraculously in other words, it has to be because God imparts His power for that specific purpose. There is also, it seems, an implication that that isn’t always so. In that same place Mark records on one occasion, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.(Mk 6:5,6). It would appear on this latter occasion the unbelief of the people hindered the power of God flowing through Jesus. Possibly the phrase above, the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick implies that on different occasions God’s power flowed in different ways to achieve different ends, and the end at this moment was healing.

Luke, as a doctor, has a special awareness of these things. The message and lesson for us is, as we’ve stated above, is that if we are to see healing it must be because it is God’s will and God’s power flows to bring the change. Without God we cannot heal. There is no inherent power within us, as some think, that brings healing to others. No, it is specifically the power of God flowing that reverses the course of ill-health and brings instant or speedy good-health. Luke wants us to make sure we give the glory to God if we are involved in this sort of ministry. Power doesn’t just happen; it is the operation of God moving. And the result? The result must always be that God is glorified. At the end of this account we find, “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.” (v.26) When that happens people will be drawn to God, and not to us. That is why it is important to realise that it is God’s power and God’s activity.

You may wonder why we major on this point, but it is because the glory is to be God’s and not ours. When great things happen they happen because God moves. We might have been the channel through which He flowed, but ultimately it was God’s power flowing and He and He alone is to be glorified. Let’s not hinder that happening.